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“Art can help someone with trauma”: interview with Disabled Artist

Written by Arts, Editor's Picks

Fozz has been posting art on Instagram since 2018, using the moniker Disabled Artist. In his first ever interview, he talks to Joe Molander about his work and the public perception of the arts.

How would you describe your work?

What I aim for is a slightly new take on abstract geometric art, using whatever I can, given my physical disability. I’d like to think that the word ‘geometric’ would be the best word to describe what I do.

Could you describe your creative process? How do you go about making a piece? How long do they take to make, on average?

More often than not, each of my pieces start during a time when the bad thoughts of my PTSD start to consume me. I’ve used my attempts at art as a way to help combat these difficult times. Although it doesn’t happen every time, I’ll often start a piece during these times, pack everything away and then revisit it the following day or days later. Due to the physical limits I face with my hands, it can sometimes take over a week to finish something, whilst at other times it can take months to revisit an earlier piece.

I can appreciate that my work may look like it’s not difficult to do but, essentially, what I want people to realise is that this isn’t easy for me. I seem to have an ever growing pile of work that I’ve started, which I can dip in and out of to keep me going that I also can’t keep up with. On a positive note, it’ll keep me busy for quite a while! 

You go by Disabled Artist on Instagram. Do you view your disabilities as a core part of your work, or would you say you’re more an artist who happens to be disabled?

If you’d have asked me this question way back in 2018 when I created my Instagram account, I’d have probably said “Disabled Artist” was something that described the very core part of my work. I’d have probably said it was an identity that I was still struggling to come to terms with. Prior to my disability, I had been a very keen artist and, without sounding cocky, I wasn’t too bad at it either. But, like most people, life, work and relationships can take over, while hobbies like my art get put on hold.

It was only when I was struggling to come to terms with my disabilities that I decided I would try to get back into my art, in whatever capacity I could. As the years, months and days have gone by, and my work has attracted more and more positivity, I kinda took a step back and thought “you know what? My disability doesn’t define who I am, or what I do. I’m just an artist who happens to be disabled: take it or leave it.”

I’ve had quite a lot of abuse from people who think I’m trying to use my disability to get sympathy from people, which I would normally just shrug off, but in March this year it finally tipped me over the edge. I publicly shamed another Instagram user for his comments about me and my disability and it literally stopped overnight. I now just get abuse about me and my disability, and derogatory comments about my work.

View this post on Instagram

This one has been sitting at the bottom of my ever growing pile for some time now and I’ve been unsure whether to keep it there, bin it or post it………I think you can guess what I decided. . I would really love to hear your thoughts, positive or negative, as I really value what you awesome people contribute to what it is that I do. . Stay safe and well! . 😊 . Much Love Fozz . . #disabledandproud #amateurartist #aspiringartist #myartwork #geometryart #onlineartist #newart #disabledart #disabledartist #newartistuk #disabledptsd #depression #anxiety #ukartist #framedart #londonartist #gallerywallgoals #bbcarts #lutonartist #positivenegative #geometricart #geometricalabstraction #geometricalart #traumahealingwithart #lutonarts #lutonartwok #emergingartist #bedfordshireart #bedfordshireartist

A post shared by Disabled Artist (@disabledartist) on

Do you think there’s a stigma against disabled people in the arts?

This is a difficult one to answer. Personally, I’m yet to feel like I’ve had barriers put in place or that I’ve been excluded from the art world because of my disability. However, I would be naive to say it could never happen. The word ‘disability’ covers such a complex range of areas that there could very well be feelings of shame or prejudice against people of disability who want to take part in the arts.

I read somewhere that Arts Council England reported that disabled people are much more reluctant to participate in cultural activities. This was for fear of negative attitudes and prejudices that would make people with disabilities feel less included.

When you consider terms such as ‘inclusive arts’, there has to be some sort of stigma attached. Otherwise there wouldn’t be these different phrases, or groups created to include people with disabilities.

Do you think people misunderstand or undervalue the arts?

Oh yes! Definitely! I can say this because of the response I’ve gotten from friends, colleagues and family about their thoughts on the world of arts. Most will just think it’s about drawing and painting and can’t or won’t get drawn into the full value of what’s in front of them. Others will think it’s just “a load of old bo**ocks” and just for those “arty farty” types.

I’ll be the first to admit I never fully appreciated the way my chosen form of art could help someone with unresolved trauma, as is in the case of me and my PTSD. The arts can help people express themselves in ways that they so desperately want to in their day to day lives, but can’t. The arts can help someone bring joy to others by producing a painting that captures their loved ones in a way that they never thought possible. The arts are much more complex than just drawing a picture or dancing around on stage to dramatic music, and I think people fail to see this. They don’t delve deeper into the complexities of the arts.

I genuinely believe that if more people used a form of art in their own lives, they could learn much more about themselves. They’d realised capabilities that they didn’t even know they had, and maybe find some much needed comfort.

What do you make of the government’s response to the arts industry’s struggle during lockdown?

I don’t think I could answer this question without the use of some very strong language! All I will say is that support for an industry that contributes billions to the economy each year should have seen support from the absolute beginning.

What’s your experience – good or bad – as an artist who works online?

The good side for me is that I can reach a much larger audience than I would be able to without the use of social media. In an ideal world, I would love to have my work featured on the walls of a gallery, even if it was just a small spot. At the same time, in this day and age any artist who doesn’t have an online presence is missing out on such a huge area of potential followers, and of course sales too.

The bad side is that it can make people scarily anonymous and unaccountable for their actions. I actively encourage criticism, so long as it is constructive, but I also recieve unwarranted abuse via my DMs. Due to the continued and repeated abuse I will often leave my DMs unread for weeks, with a negative outcome. This means I then miss messages from people enquiring about my work and no matter how many accounts I report or block, these abusive messages still keep on coming.

Do you think the internet is good or bad for art and artists?

I think it is both good and bad. For people like me who have issues with anxiety, it means we can expose our work to a larger audience. We can reach people and organisations that we probably wouldn’t be able to without the internet. But, like with everything, there’s always a bad side, which will be different for each artist.

What impact do you think trying to monetise art has on the art?

I’m sure this will come back to bite me, but I think that when a monetary value is added to anything it can often be a bone of contention. I also think that when artists have a certain fame or notoriety behind them, their work can become quite bizarre. With this can come price tags that, in my opinion, can be quite bizarre too.

The most recent example was back in December 2019, when Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan sold a banana duct-taped to a wall for $120,000 (£91,000). An even more bizarre fact about this is the banana is real, so it obviously needs to be replaced by the owner. It was claimed that the size, shape and how the banana was placed was all very carefully considered.

When the owner replaces the banana, does the value of the art work itself decrease?  I could go on for ages about this piece, but the point of this example is that the price of someone’s art can leave others wondering how or why such a price tag has been attached to it. I’m sure that can impact the type of clientele that someone’s art attracts. I can’t give reason or justification for how other artists price their work, but I think the monetary attachment is always open to debate, by literally anyone who sees it. Some will agree with the price, and others will not.

What, for you, is success as an artist?

Success for me is being able to share my work with people, and for people to get enjoyment from it. If this takes me down any other path then it’s an added bonus. Right now, I think I’ve achieved my success. Having Instagram as a platform to share my work, with an audience I wouldn’t normally have been able to achieve, has made this success possible.

The Disabled Artist Instagram account can be found here.

Featured Image: Mike on Flickr, Peakpx, Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons

Last modified: 25th July 2020

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